the issue dated Sept. 8, 2000
War on 'Binge Drinking' Is Against the Term Itself
By SCOTT STREET
A coalition of 21
higher-education associations is calling on college administrators,
government officials, and researchers to stop using the term "binge
drinking" in defining student alcohol use. The group's statement
is the latest salvo in a simmering disagreement among policymakers over
whether too-liberal definitions of problem drinking may actually promote
alcohol consumption by causing students to think binge drinking is the
In its statement
this week, the Inter-Association Task Force on Alcohol and Other Substance
Abuse Issues said that use of the phrase binge drinking should be reserved,
as it historically has been, to refer to a "prolonged (usually
two days or more) period of intoxication."
are getting tired of being portrayed negatively as a whole for the behavior
of a few," said Drew Hunter, secretary of the panel and executive
director of the BACCHUS and GAMMA Peer Education Network. "What
we are asking for is to define the picture accurately."
for the flawed definition of binge drinking, in the group's view, is
the College Alcohol Study sponsored by Harvard University's School of
Public Health. Its latest survey of student alcohol use, which was published
in March, found that 44 percent of students binge, by its definition:
five or more drinks in one sitting for a man, and four for a woman.
This morning, researchers
at Harvard released a follow-up report showing that students believe
that 35 percent of their peers binge drink, and that the students surveyed
tend to define a binge as six drinks for a man and five for a woman.
Those findings are in line with the researchers' earlier finding, the
report's authors said.
But another national
e-mail survey of students that was released this week takes issue with
the Harvard findings. Sixty-five percent of respondents to the survey,
which was sponsored by the Association of College Unions International,
an association of student-activities officials, and conducted by the
Washington polling company of Penn, Schoen, and Berland Associates,
defined binge drinking as having eight or more drinks, and excessive
drinking as having six or more.
When given the chance,
many respondents specifically criticized Harvard's definition of binge
drinking -- five for men and four for women -- as too low. "If
that is binge drinking, then 95 percent of my campus binge drinks every
week!" wrote a male junior at the University of California at Los
who directs the alcohol study at Harvard, took issue with the argument
that by setting the bar low, its study may promote binge drinking by
leading students to think it is the norm.
He noted that the
proportion of students in who describe themselves as binge drinkers
has remained steady throughout the 1990's, at about two in five, suggesting
that definitions haven't had an effect on behavior.
But that's not to
say drinking on college campuses isn't still a problem -- a much more
significant problem than the debate over academic language.
that we work together to solve these problems," Mr. Hunter said.
"There's no need for a feeling of competition or challenge."
Mr. Wechsler agreed.
"If they can get rid of it," he said of problem drinking,
"let them call it whatever they want."
Copyright 2000 by
The Chronicle of Higher Education